Although we wrote this article early on in the coronavirus pandemic, it might still be helpful for your family as things continue to develop.
Being together all day, every day during lockdown will likely be stretching the patience of most families, and keeping everyone calm and happy will sometimes seem like a huge undertaking.
But it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Families up and down the UK are feeling similarly challenged but there are ways to cope. If you can, talk to friends and family about how you are feeling and what you are experiencing. You may be able to support each other through difficult days. In addition, there are some tactics you could employ that may help you and your family cope more easily. Worksheets to help you track these activities are included at the bottom of the page.
Ensuring children feel safe and emotionally strong is currently more important than ever, but what do you do when a family member starts to feel overwhelmed with negative feelings?
One good coping strategy is to come up with a plan of action in advance.
Sit down with your child and, between you, come up with a few tactics that your family could use when someone is starting to feel anxious, angry or stressed.
Here are some of things you could include in your strategy:
- Make a Zen Den - a safe area where children and adults can retreat to in order to calm down, recharge their batteries or take a brain break
- Exercise - Go for a walk, get some fresh air, dance or do something physical
- Do an activity - Draw, colour, or do something arty; read a book or a comic; or listen to music or an audiobook
- Talk it out – talk to yourself, a friend, family member or even a pet. Sometimes talking through your feelings can make a real difference. Write your feelings in a diary
Once you’ve come up with a list of actions, display the plan somewhere where everyone can see it. Make sure you have all the right materials for your chosen coping strategies. For example, if your child thinks arts and crafts will help them, you will need to ensure you have enough art supplies.
Remember, it is just as important for adults to feel safe and emotionally strong. Make sure you are taking care of yourself and include your own calming strategies in the plan.
There is extensive research on the benefits of mindfulness and how it positively affects the brain. Studies show that it can help to reduce stress, improve awareness, increase attention and enhance sleep.
Mindfulness is thought to reduce anxiety by helping children and adults focus on the present, rather than worry about what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future.
The website www.positivepsychology.com features a range of activities that could help to improve your family’s mindfulness:
Mindful breathing is the building block in all mindfulness practices. Focusing on breathing can help a person confront the emotions that they find hard to manage. Some common breathing techniques include:
- Noticing the breath – Get your child to concentrate on what breathing feels like in their nostrils and in their body. Imagine it as a colour as they exhale
- Counting the breath – ask your child to pause and count their breaths. One breath in is ‘1’, the next breath out is ‘2’ etc.
Yoga poses may seem basic, but they can considerably improve both body strength and stress reduction.
Simple poses can include:
- Mountain Pose - stand still with your feet about hip width apart and your arms by your side and focus on breathing and centring your body
- Volcano – kneel on the floor with hands pressed together in a prayer-like position. Simulate the eruption of the volcano by pushing the breath out with a whoosh and pushing arms up into the air and around in a circle out to your side
- Superman - standing with the feet just wider than the hips, fists clenched, and arms reached out to the sky, stretching the body as tall as possible.
A wide selection of other yoga poses for children can be found on the website www.childreninspiredbyyoga.com
Owning your emotions
Encourage your child to talk about their emotions and recognise what each of them feels like.
A good way to demonstrate how strong emotions can influence a person’s actions is to make a mind jar.
Fill a clear jar almost to the top with water. Add a big spoonful of glitter glue, or glue and dry glitter, to the jar. Put the lid on the jar and shake it to make the glitter swirl.
Tell your child to imagine that the glitter is like their thoughts when they get stressed, angry or upset. When it is mixed up, the glitter makes it hard to see through the jar clearly. It’s the same when they get stressed or upset, it makes it hard to make good choices, because they can’t think clearly.
Let the jar settle and show how the water starts to clear. Explain that when they are calm, their thoughts will settle, and they will be able to think more clearly.
There are a number of games that children can play without them even realising they are practicing mindfulness. Here are a few:
- Blowing bubbles. Have your kids focus on taking in a deep, slow breath, and exhaling steadily to fill the bubble. Encourage them to pay close attention to the bubbles as they form, detach, and pop or float away.
- Playing with balloons. Tell your kids that the aim of this game is to keep the balloon off the ground, but they must move slowly and gently.
- Penny game – for children aged 3 and over. Give your child a penny and allow them one minute to study it, focusing on the details. Mix the penny up with a small pile of other pennies, and ask them to pick out their original coin, getting them to explain why they knew it was theirs.
Regular check ins
Remember, every day is a chance to reboot!
Each morning is an opportunity to set the stage for the day. Research shows that if you start your day with a positive, the rest of the day is more likely to run smoothly.
You can start your day on a positive note by doing a morning check-in, either casually during breakfast or as a formal morning meeting, to see how everyone is feeling as well as plan activities for the day ahead.
Prompt your child with things like:
- Name one thing you are grateful for
- Share a funny joke, picture or video
- Tell me how you are feeling today
- Draw a picture of how you feel right now or find a picture of someone who matches the feeling you have
- Do you have any concerns about the plan of activities for the day?
- What activity would you like to do today?
At the end of each day, it is helpful to meet as a family and check how everyone thought the day went. This way you can adjust your schedule for the following day based on what is working and what is not.
Get the family to talk about what worked well and what could be improved. Try to end the discussion on a positive note.